Service under fire

Ministry's work still in demand despite turmoil

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Kelly Hernandez feeds five boys -- ages 8, 7, 5, 4 and 3 -- on a box of food she picks up each month at an Angel Food Ministries distribution site.

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Danny Stoms (left) and Robert Steudle pack food for Angel Food Ministries at the Helping People Start Over ministry building.   Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Danny Stoms (left) and Robert Steudle pack food for Angel Food Ministries at the Helping People Start Over ministry building.

Hernandez, 28, is a single mom on a fixed income living in Hephzibah.

"At the end of the month, we're struggling. When we get a box, we're relieved," she said. "The meat, the vegetables, they're all provided. I don't have to go to the grocery store. I don't have to get a sitter."

Hernandez says she has better things to worry about than the troubles of Angel Food Ministries, a Georgia nonprofit that has, since 2009, endured a lawsuit, a federal investigation and controversy over legislation introduced by one of its employees, a state representative.

"I skipped one month, and my whole house went into chaos," Hernandez said. "I don't care what their deal is."

Angel Food Ministries sells $140 million of deeply discounted food a year to a national network of churches, including more than 30 in Augusta, Evans, Thomson, Aiken and Edgefield.

The ministry is based in a 160,000-square-foot warehouse in Monroe, Ga., which distributes the food to 5,200 locations in 44 states.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched the offices in February 2009. FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett declined to comment on the investigation.

Angel Food Ministries also spent months in 2009 resolving a lawsuit brought by two board members, who alleged that Angel Food's founding family was profiting at the ministry's expense. They claimed founder Joe Wingo and his family, including his wife, sons and daughter-in-law, took trips in the Angel Food jet and used company credit cards for personal purchases.

In a court-supervised settlement, the two board members agreed to leave the nonprofit, and Angel Food promised changes. The lawsuit, Angel Food said in a statement at the time, was "nothing more than a distraction" and a "power grab," and business hasn't suffered since.

Juda Engelmayer, Angel Food's director of media and communications and customer care, says he has no reason to think the lawsuit or investigation has hurt the ministry's standing in the eyes of the people who matter most.

"Do we have a good reputation in the eyes of the government? No, we don't," he said. "But our clientele are the people who are buying food, not legislators or the media. We'd love to be loved by politicians, but we're not seeking their approval. We've done nothing wrong."

Angel Food seems to function the way a 501(c)(3) should, said Darryll Jones, the associate dean of research and faculty development at Florida A&M University College of Law. He blogs about nonprofit law at lawprofessors.typepad.com.

"To the extent that they provide something indispensable to living at a low cost, it's certainly charitable." But, he said, "It's not about what they're doing. It's how they were compensating their insiders. They were getting rich. There was a real concern that Angel Food would morph into a business. You can be doing something really great and if the community sees one or two people getting rich off it, it casts a pall on the whole nonprofit."

Though local churches were aware of the problems, Kelly Brown says it has never affected the day-to-day operations of the Angel Food ministry at her church, New Life Christian Center Church.

"We've been in touch with the corporate office," she said. "But all that is invisible to our community. They don't see it. They see provision, an opportunity, really, to feed their families."

Once a month, Brown coordinates Angel Food pickups at the church's ministry building on Gordon Highway. The church also uses the building for job placement and GED programs.

"Angel Food is a part of that, an extension of the life-skills ministry we provide," said Brown, who organizes the distribution of about 50 boxes of food each month. She has volunteered with Angel Food since 2007.

"I saw the purpose. I saw the mission. We have an opportunity to reach people who are hungry and just need a little help," she said. "It's given us an outreach into the community. A lot of folks placing orders don't necessarily go to the church, or necessarily church at all."

BROWN SAYS THE NEED for Angel Food has picked up since last year, about the time the lawsuit resolved. She says that's likely because Angel Food launched online ordering, and so many families were hurting in the recession.

Robert Steudle, a volunteer with the ministry, likens the operation to a grocery store with far fewer choices and far better prices.

"Angel Food provides a way for so many families," he said. "I broke it down in my head. It's really a good deal. I did the math, and it's a bargain."

About 90 percent of the food is in freezers on site until Steudle and a few other volunteers box it and carry it to recipients. Other volunteers offer to pray with them.

The ministry is faith-based, and each box of food includes a magazine with "inspiring articles," Engelmayer said, but he adds, "Our mission is not to proselytize. Our mission is to feed."

FINANCIALLY, ANGEL FOOD is unlike other ministries, and that has caught the attention of charity-watch organizations. One, Wall Watchers, included Angel Food in a donor alert. Another, Charity Navigator, said Angel Food has an unusual structure for a nonprofit.

"It's so unusual that we don't even rate them," said Sandra Miniutti, a vice president.

Angel Food responds that it's not really a charity, but a ministry, Engelmayer said.

"We don't have tithing. There are no donations. There are no big-ticket dinners. That's not how we operate," he said. "We're so unique that people don't understand."

Angel Food could have decentralized its operations as the ministry grew to avoid these conflicts, said Jones, the nonprofit lawyer.

"They need checks and balances. They need to disperse the governing authority among more people," he said. "Otherwise it becomes somebody's baby and it becomes somebody's personal business instead of representative of the community."

Though Angel Food doesn't accept donations, it does rely on volunteer labor, Jones said.

SUE BACINO's church doesn't move as many Angel Food boxes as it used to, but monthly pickups still require a small army of volunteers.

First Church of the Nazarene on Lumpkin Road started Angel Food in 2004. It grew to distribute about 80 boxes a month but now orders about 15 a month.

The ministry's problems have never been much cause for concern, though Bacino says, ideally, Angel Food would have never been wrapped up in an investigation or lawsuit.

"We still get our food and we're still able to serve the community," she said. "That's what's important. That's why we're in this."

How does it work?

Angel Food is able to distribute food cheaply because it buys in large volumes. Frozen hamburgers, for example, are vacuum-sealed at headquarters and trucked to distribution sites across the country. Churches pick up the food from those sites and assemble the boxes.

A standard box costs $30, but Angel Food also sells vegetable and fruit boxes, extra meat or seafood boxes, premade meals for seniors, and allergen-free shares. Angel Food packs food it bought for $25 into every standard box. The contents would cost about $65 at the grocery store, according to the ministry.

A dollar from each box is given to the host site. The remainder pays for staff, offices, distribution and the next month's food.

WHO CAN ORDER?

Anyone can place an order, though the ministry was founded to serve families that are struggling. The Wingos started Angel Food in 1994 to help families at the closing of factories in Monroe, Ga.

There are no qualifications, minimums, income restrictions or applications. Orders are handled by churches early in the month. Most local churches distribute Angel Food boxes on the third Saturday of the month.

Learn More

Read more and get a map of distribution sites at www.angelfoodministries.com.

What's in a $30 box?

Last month, a $30 box from Angel Food Ministries bought:

- 2 pounds chopped beef steaks flavored with Dijon mustard

- 1 pound bacon-wrapped turkey breast filet mignon

- 1 pound boneless center cut pork chops

- 2 pounds macaroni & beef dinner entrée

- 2 1/2 pounds split chicken breasts

- 1 pound lean ground beef

- 12-inch supreme pizza

- 1 pound frozen peas & carrots

- 1 pound frozen whole kernel corn

- 2 pounds fresh apples

- 2 pounds heat-and-serve broccoli-and-cheese soup

- 24-ounce natural-cut french fries

- 6 1/2-ounce stroganoff skillet meal

- 1 pound rice

- Dozen eggs

- Dessert

Comments (14) Add comment
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deekster
24
Points
deekster 04/18/10 - 07:09 am
0
0
It sounds like Wal Mart, but

It sounds like Wal Mart, but with "tax exempt status". Feed the Children is the "prime example". Buying, selling and distributing groceries is a business. And the founder and his family in Arkansas have made millions. Check out their "non profit" administrative salaries. Charities are "sacred cows" in this country and charlatans have seized the moment. Elmer Gantry, Jim Baker, Pat Roberson and the lsit goes on and on. Churches used to struggle to maintain a budget and pay bills. Now they pay six figure salaries and give Mercedes automobiles to individuals who used to "give their time freely out of love for Christ and their Christian Brethren. A "true child of God" cannot "sell the knowledge and interpretation of the Bible. These are freely given and are to be freely given. Follow the money. The church is no exception. Whatever "entertainment" keeps the crowds and their money coming will be in the "sanctuary". More venues for more "different kinds of audiences". Contemporary, Traditional, Secular or whatever will made the congregation happy. There is stern warning in the Bible about this situation.

deekster
24
Points
deekster 04/18/10 - 07:17 am
0
0
I'm going to take this list

I'm going to take this list to Wal Mart. If you will notice you grocery bill at most stores now, you will find the "total number of items purchased X $1.80 a piece" will be the total bill. A "great Vega Bet. So 16 items at Wal Mart would cost this lady about $32.00. Can anyone say " a great pyramid scheme whose profit comes from enlisting volunteers instead of salaried employees and using tax exempt charity status". And I'm told that once you sign up, you have to participate each week or loose out. The church has to place orders for you and the local church/distributor gets money. That's how it works at my church.

walrus4ever
354
Points
walrus4ever 04/18/10 - 08:55 am
0
0
Maybe they should pack

Maybe they should pack condoms in the box to help moms keep the herd down. Obviously some stay pregnant continously. And where is the babydaddy with child support?

augustahistorybuff
49
Points
augustahistorybuff 04/18/10 - 10:30 am
0
0
There are two other problems

There are two other problems with Angel Foods. 1. ANYONE can receive their services, no matter your economic status. 2. The food is the cheapest and crappiest indigestible substance I have seen. And they want to put this in the Georiga's public school system?

cleanup
0
Points
cleanup 04/18/10 - 11:54 am
0
0
I know some people who have

I know some people who have used Angel Foods. You can order online, then you pick up your food at the church site you selected. There is no requirement that you have to participate each month (someone said weekly, but it's only done once a month anyway). Augustahistorybuff is dead wrong on food quality. It's the same freshness and quality you would get at any grocery store. Also, the church does NOT have to place orders for you if you do it online. Walrus, grow a brain.

No_Longer_Amazed
5143
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 04/18/10 - 01:08 pm
0
0
Although it was founded to

Although it was founded to serve families that are struggling it sounds like it has developed into a cooperative that provides its services to anyone who places and pays for an order. As a customer of Wally World and other discount stores, I have no problem with anyone who uses their services. In fact, I might even try them out myself next month.

augustahistorybuff
49
Points
augustahistorybuff 04/18/10 - 01:10 pm
0
0
Cleanup, sorry your taste in

Cleanup, sorry your taste in consumer products and your taste buds are defunct. My wife and I subscribed to Angel Foods once a month for almost a year. The frozen (already fried) chicken fingers had more grease in them than any I have ever seen (so much for those who want to watch thier health or diet). The frozen raw chicken was awful (actually slimy)and the steaks more fat on them than a slab of fatback. The meat was way below standard of what any indpendant or chain grocery would sell. I would had to go to Bi-Lo just to have frozen veggies that did not melt or come out a soggy and mushy after cooking them. Stay with your store bought products people. These guys are crooks.

grinder48
1982
Points
grinder48 04/18/10 - 03:16 pm
0
0
not personally familar with
Unpublished

not personally familar with this "charity" but sounds like a "for profit business" to me. And they enjoy tax exempt status??? The Hernandez woman 28 years old with children ages 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 ... now I have a real problem with that. I'll bet this woman one of the 47% (don't recall exact %) or Americans (assuming she is an American) who paid ZERO taxes, may even have rec'd $ through tax credits. I'm sick of this system. Every person who lives in this country benefits from the basics provided by the government (for example, military protection) so EVERY person except the profoundly handicapped should be paying taxes. The system steals from me to give money to people like Hernandez, it's ridiculous. November 2010 ... vote 'em out!

corgimom
33163
Points
corgimom 04/18/10 - 04:37 pm
0
0
It's a business.

It's a business.

walrus4ever
354
Points
walrus4ever 04/18/10 - 05:27 pm
0
0
Oh Grinder your thoughts are

Oh Grinder your thoughts are so "brainless" just like mine. We should "Cleanup" our thinking and join in at the something for nothing teat. ill pull my own weight as a responsible citizen I just hate those that could do better but wont.

Sacred Cow
0
Points
Sacred Cow 04/18/10 - 08:58 pm
0
0
For what it's worth, this

For what it's worth, this organization is non donation based, takes no charitable contributions and actually returns money to communities. Unlike food coops, this group has donated about $30 million back to its host sites and it sends regular food donations to loads of charitable needs, like the Food Bank of North Georgia, Hosea Feed the Hungry and it gives to the Red Cross, March of Dimes and countless organizations.

Also, Angel Food sends food donations to needy communities, like it did when there were floods in Atlanta last year, a food pantry in Florida burned down, and Ice Storms in Kentucky stranded communities. Angel Food sent it trucks.

Let's not forget that it also just sent 60 thousand pounds of food to Haiti.

People are jaded, sure, but kindly give due where it is due. This is a good organization and it is often vilified erroneously.

This organization received 501(c)(3) status, it undergoes a Federal Yellowbook Audit every year and hasn't been found to have done anything wrong. Accusations, yes.

While it remains so, its work is good, the people get fed and communities get $1/box.

The food is good. Allow me to point out that while some may not like the quality, they do serve hundreds of thousands each month to few complaints. In that quantity, there will be bad batches, yes, and those are the ones who complain the loudest.

The ones who buy attest to the quality.

Kelli
0
Points
Kelli 04/18/10 - 10:03 pm
0
0
Personally, I am very

Personally, I am very thankful for Angel Food. Yes, sometimes the food isn't great but most of the time it's rather good. Every time I have gotten steaks they have been exceptional. Little fat and they are extremely tenter and juicy. I don't order every month,depending on what the choices are but I'm always happy when I do. I also appreciate the fact that they don't preach at you or attempt to pressure you to attend their church. For me, Angel Food is just that.

lulu64
0
Points
lulu64 04/18/10 - 10:23 pm
0
0
I have used Angel Food on and

I have used Angel Food on and off for over two years. I have personally taken the list of food and priced it at Wal-Mart where I normally grocery shop and to buy it at Wal-Mart would cost twice as much as Angel Food. I have had a few things that were not the greatest quality, but then again I have bought roasts, steaks, and chicken breasts at Wal-Mart that were not so hot either. You do NOT have to participate every week, which you cannot anyway since it does not run every week, only monthly. I have only used this when I have needed to, and have gone as long as 5 months in between orders. I cannot get food stamps. You know why? Because my elderly father put my name on his checking account in case anything happened to him I could pay his bills, etc. Because of that, the government says I have too much money, even though none of that money is mine. So yeah, I am grateful for Angel Food and not prepared to be snobby about it. They are people who are trying to help others, and I am glad they are there.

tnjsw
0
Points
tnjsw 04/18/10 - 11:52 pm
0
0
It is a shame that this

It is a shame that this started out with all the right reasons and then suddenly it caught on and money poured in and greed spread and people being people have ruined a helpful service. Money is the root of all evil. Too bad they were not strong enough. I will no longer support it.

mable8
2
Points
mable8 04/19/10 - 12:37 am
0
0
I have used Angel Food and

I have used Angel Food and was glad I had the money to purchase the groceries. I did not find the chicken to be "slimy" or the chicken fingers to be "greasy" as one poster stated; quite frankly, the groceries were comparable to what one finds in the store. As for the specials, those are equally good. Some folks just don't know when to leave well enough alone--sounds like some jealousy going on around town. At least these people are helping others, which is more than one can say about salvation army and the red cross.

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